PEARL (Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory) is a unique facility to explore the ways in which people interact with their environment. It is a massive space – around 4,000m2 and 10m high – in which we can create life-sized environments – a railway station, high street, town square – under controlled conditions, so that we can examine how people interact with the environment and other people in these types of places. We can change the profile, type and material of the floor, simulate lighting of any colour and intensity, create sound from the tiniest bird song to the most massive explosion, include other senses, such as smell, and much more.
Much of our understanding about how cities work is based on a lot of assumptions about how people respond to, use and act in the environment. Many of these assumptions are based on experience over many years and are valid in general, but often the models we use just don’t represent what actually happens. PEARL enables us to study in detail how people actually interact with the environment and each other, by enabling us to test detailed differences in the environment – such as space, colour, lighting, sound – under controlled conditions, so that we can obtain rich data for use in the design of real urban systems.
PEARL includes a pop-up theatre so that the public, researchers, artists, performers and others can see, hear, smell, feel and explore what might be possible in an urban environment before trying it out in public. We can help designers work out how people will respond to their designs, for example, of trains. Sometimes we need to instrument people with sophisticated systems, such as eye trackers, accelerometers, brain scanners and motion detection systems, so that we can track how they move around the environment.